After years of living with period pain without a proper diagnosis, Isabella found healing and new strength through the power of her own voice.
It’s widely accepted that periods come with pain. This misconception isn’t just societal and can be seen in our education and health systems. This can lead so many women to suffer in silence, alone, and for far longer than necessary. Isabella was one of those women. She’d experienced symptoms since she was 14, and wasn’t able to see a gynaecologist until she was 19.
“My symptoms were minimised, or brushed off, and I was put on three different pills before I could get a referral to see someone. It was then another two years until I received my diagnoses, as I was misdiagnosed at my first laparoscopy,” says Isabella.
After seeing multiple gynaecologists, countless scans and tests, and consultations with dietitians and natural therapists, Isabella started to feel frustrated. “I was so emotionally exhausted from seeing another specialist who told me to switch pills again and to come back in three months. I was certain I had endometriosis by this point, so I joined a Facebook support group and asked for suggestions of a doctor who knew endometriosis,” Isabella says. She was finally diagnosed with endometriosis and adenomyosis.
Understanding her conditions proved to be just as difficult because menstruation wasn’t as openly discussed in mainstream media when she was diagnosed in 2015. “No one I knew had ever heard of either of the conditions I suffered with and were visibly awkward when I tried explaining them,” says Isabella. “I mostly found information through blogs, Facebook groups and Instagram, however, there was no way to identify whether this information was reputable. I feel that it’s changing slowly, but there is still a long way to go.”
The online community did provide Isabella with much-needed support, especially before her diagnosis. She found connection and strength in the women on Instagram that were living with endometriosis and adenomyosis. “They knew what I was going through and how it felt, so that was comforting... I kept going because I had that feeling that I was right that something was wrong, and it wasn’t normal to be feeling this way. I kept pushing because I wanted to have a better quality of life and I had read so many stories from others whose lives had changed as a result of diagnosis and management,” Isabella says.
Her mum was also a pillar of support. “She would try to come to as many appointments with me as she could, and was the one who went with me to vouch for the symptoms and life I was living, how it couldn’t go on, and that something needed to be done,” says Isabella.
Strong support systems are especially important when living with ‘invisible’ conditions like endometriosis and adenomyosis. “People assume you must be ‘fine’ or ‘okay’ because you don’t look visibly unwell, which can be incredibly hard when you actually are in an immense amount of pain or are bleeding quite heavily,” explains Isabella. She adds that the financial cost can be a burden that is also overlooked. The lingering ‘taboo’ and awkwardness that can come with gynaecological conditions can make it an uncomfortable topic to discuss.
The latter is what Isabella feels most strongly about. “I feel it stems from the lack of sexual education and discussions around our bodies from a younger age - such as puberty discussions in late primary school to proper sexual education in older years. These discussions lack nuance and are often delivered by teachers who aren’t adequately equipped and can feel awkward as a result, shrouding these conversations in further shame and stigma. From here, it’s not seen as acceptable to talk about these topics publicly and hence the lack of knowledge and understanding about them in wider public settings,” explains Isabella.
Ann Voskamp said, “Shame dies when stories are told in safe spaces.” Isabella puts those words into action with the Let’s Talk Period podcast and community.
“I had the idea back in 2019 in May… I wanted to create a podcast because (selfishly) I wanted to consume content about endometriosis, adenomyosis, PCOS and periods, and there was no other podcast out there that was doing it,” says Isabella.
The quest to create a safe space for these important stories sent Isabella on a steep learning curve, as she had never podcasted before. “There was a lot of Googling and YouTubing going on, and tweaking to get to where I am now, and I’m still learning things. People were so generous with their time and taking me up on the offer to come onto a show that was so new, and I will be forever grateful for that,” says Isabella.
In addition to achieving her goal of spotlighting these conditions, Isabella is most proud of the community that she’s built. “It’s not just interviewing wonderful people who are incredibly strong, smart and empowered, but the people who listen to the episodes each week, who DM me and ask questions, and who take the time to let me know that I’ve helped them through doing this. Seeing the tangible impact on people’s lives just makes me beam with pride,” she says.
To women on a similar journey, Isabella encourages listening to their ‘intuition or gut feeling’. “It never leads you wrong. You need to keep fighting for answers and pushing for them. You live in your body each day and putting up with a poor quality of life just isn’t an option. You deserve quality care, you deserve to know what’s going on in your body and you deserve to have a great quality of life… You know what is normal and what isn’t for your body and you deserve to have that listened to. If your team won’t listen, get a second, third or fourth opinion, as someone will listen and take you seriously.”
Through her own experience and her community, she understands the resilience it takes to live with chronic illness. “[These people] are working, studying and living despite often dealing with some horrific symptoms that a lot of people would be bed bound for days with, however, they just have to keep getting up and going,” she says.
In her case, Isabella continues to get up and carry a community with her voice. She’s proven to be much more than the ‘fearful, drained and meek’ woman she once saw herself as and is living proof of her chosen Powerpants affirmation: “I am not my illness.”
"You deserve to know what’s going on in your body."
*follow Isabella's Let's Talk, Period. page on instagram here.
About the Author
Alegria Alano is a roaming writer and a bottomless pit of curiosity. Most of her time is spent exploring new places, interesting ideas and fascinating people. She writes about what she discovers in a diary, on alegria-alano.com, and more regularly on the gram at @alegriaalano.